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Mike Lake - Logging Boom Town of the 1920's - Then and Now
Mike Lake sign
It's hard to imagine that this quiet and serene lake was once a bustling community of loggers; over 600 strong, who worked for the Abernethy and Lougheed Logging Company in the 1920's, and called Mike Lake their home.
Standing at the top of the floating dock, watching the anglers in their boats, you can almost see the ghostly images of men hauling the huge logs down to the lake to be loaded onto the railcars for their trip to the sawmill.
Once located in Maple Ridge, B.C., the Abernethy and Lougheed Logging Company was the largest logging operation in B.C. The company leased 25,000 acres of forest, that was called "Limit W" which now, encompasses the majority of the University of British Columbia Research Forest, and Golden Ears Provincial Park.
One of our main roadways in the Lower Mainland is the Lougheed Highway, which stretches from Hope to Vancouver, B.C., and it was named after Nelson Seymour Lougheed, the principal partner in the Abernethy and Lougheed Logging Company. He later became the Reeve (elected President,) of Maple Ridge, and the Provincial Minister of Lands and Public Works, which is most likely why the highway holds his name.
Another well traveled route in Maple Ridge, Abernethy Way, was named for his partner, George Gordon Abernethy.
Mike Lake then
Some company history
The Abernethy and Lougheed Logging Company was an ambitious undertaking, and was comprised of ten camps. Number 1 was ALLCO, the main camp which was located at the southwest end of Alouette Lake, number 2, was built at Mike Lake, with the rest being floating camps with the exception of number 10, or Camp 'L', which was located 3,000 feet up the back of Golden Ears Mountains.
Camp number 1 was ahead of its time and boasted a roundhouse with two locomotive pits, a car repair shop, a 50,000 gallon water tank for firefighting and its own post office. (I have lived in towns that don't have their own postal outlet!) At Mike Lake camp, a spur line, called the Incline, was built for the A&L Railroad to connect the camp with the main rail line further up the mountain. This was supposed to be used as a short cut to get the logs that were fallen at the top of the mountain to the lower rail line.
The company also had a freight depot and storage sheds that were used as a pick up and drop off point for the men and supplies coming and going from the camps. A & L paid their crews the princely sum of $15,000 bi-weekly and were the very first logging company in B.C. to adopt the 8 hour work day.
No such thing as accident insurance
Even though the A & L Logging Company was considered to be a modern facility for the times, over the 12 years of its operation, 50 men lost their lives due to job related incidents. The signal used to inform the work camps of a bad accident was seven whistle blows, and any man with life threatening injuries was immediately transported by train or boat to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.
The falling of a giant
Although most reports state that A & L Logging Company's demise was due to the many fires that sprang up over the years, the real culprit was the stock market crash of 1929. The company had originally estimated that it would take them at least thirty years to log their 25,000 acres, but due to many mechanical innovations and improved machinery, the harvesting of the giant, easy to reach trees was greatly reduced. This, and the fact that the company was asset rich but money poor, tightened an already snug noose.
In 1931, a line cable from a rival logging operation struck some rocks and sparked a fire that demolished the last vestiges of the Abernethy and Lougheed Logging Company. The fire destroyed Camp 'L' and swept down the mountain to Alouette Lake, and the ALLCO camp. After fighting the raging blaze all night, the men thought they had it beaten, but it flared up again, and crowned, travelling north and south, burning thousands of acres of forest in its wake. Over 2,500 men battled 33 days before the fire was finally brought under control.
A short time later, the company sold the majority of its assets, dismantled the railway, folded their tents and withdrew, leaving everything else to revert back to nature.
What you see today
At the head of Mike Lake, before the beginning of the Incline Trail, are two Parks Board information signs. One of them shows a picture of what the camp used to look like, and the other describes the Incline Trail, which is now a horseback riding and hiking trail. It takes approximately an hour to reach the end, and the elevation level increases 150 meters from the lake itself.
The sign tells visitors about the trail being originally built as a short cut for the loggers to haul the trees down to the rail lines with a stationary engine, or steam donkey, and mentions that the supporting base for the steam donkey can still be seen at the bottom of the trail.
We walked the trail several times looking for the evidence of the supporting base without finding anything. I was terribly disappointed, but determined to find it the next time we visited.
It was on our third trip that I finally saw the huge cables and realized exactly what I was seeing. The base was so overgrown and virtually melted into the earth, that at first (and second, and third,) glance it looked just like a jumble of fallen, moss covered logs.
It was so well camouflaged that we literally walked right past it three times! My husband teased me that I needed new glasses, but he didn't spot it either!
Mike Lake today
Everywhere you look in the forest, you see the silent remains of huge giant trees, cut down in their prime. It's rather sad really, seeing the old growth that was hewed down in the name of progress.
This forest must have been majestic in its day. Every time I walk these paths, I marvel at the height of the new growth forest. I can only imagine how it looked back in the 1920's. Many stumps carry the scars of toe holds - holes that were chopped into the base of the tree so a plank could be inserted. This gave the logger a spring board on which to stand that lifted him, (or them,) to a point further up the trunk where they could cut down the tree. Some of these giants were 14 feet across, and would take two men over an hour to chop down.
Many of the stumps are blackened and burned from the fire that ravaged the forest in 1931, and stand with their neighbors in silent testament to a bygone era.
It isn't all doom and gloom however. The new growth trees tower above trails well enjoyed by so many. People come from miles around to spend a few hours trekking through this quiet, serene park. During the summer, there is a happy, smiling visitor around almost every corner, and the lake is laden with boaters, anglers and laughing, splashing swimmers.
But if you step off the trail a foot or two, among the moss covered stumps and towering trees, and remain very still and quiet, you can almost hear the calls of the men who once called this place their home.